Past studies have shown that birds use their wings not only for flight, but also when ascending steep inclines. Uphill flap-running or wing-assisted incline running (WAIR) is used by both flight-incapable fledglings and flight-capable adults to retreat to an elevated refuge. Despite the broadly varying direction of travel during WAIR, level, and descending flight, recent studies have found that the basic wing path remains relatively invariant with reference to gravity. If so, joints undergo disparate motions to maintain a consistent wing path during those specific flapping modes. The underlying skeletal motions, however, are masked by feathers and skin. To improve our understanding of the form-functional relationship of the skeletal apparatus and joint morphology with a corresponding locomotor behavior, we used XROMM (X-ray Reconstruction of Moving Morphology) to quantify 3-D skeletal kinematics in chukars (Alectoris chukar) during WAIR (ascending with legs and wings) and ascending flight (AF, ascending with wings only) along comparable trajectories. Evidence here from the wing joints demonstrates that the glenohumeral joint controls the vast majority of wing movements. More distal joints are primarily involved in modifying wing shape. All bones are in relatively similar orientations at the top of upstroke during both behaviors, but then diverge through downstroke. Total excursion of the wing is much smaller during WAIR and the tip of the manus follows a more vertical path. The WAIR stroke appears "truncated" relative to ascending flight, primarily stemming from ca. 50% reduction in humeral depression. Additionally, the elbow and wrist exhibit reduced ranges of angular excursions during WAIR. The glenohumeral joint moves in a pattern congruent with being constrained by the acrocoracohumeral ligament. Finally, we found pronounced lateral bending of the furcula during the wingbeat cycle during ascending flight only, though the phasic pattern in chukars is opposite of that observed in starlings (Sturnus vulgaris).
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